Sheep farmers buy farm next door, earn Peterborough’s farm family of year award
NORWOOD — Chalk up another honour for the Asphodel Sheep Company and owners Todd and Jennifer Payne. The Paynes have been named the 2023 “Farm Family of the Year” by the Peterborough and Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce.
The farm couple, who have three daughters (ages 8, 13 and 14) run an 800-ewe flock and crop 600 acres. Their latest local honour follows recognition as a 2022 Pasture Award recipient from the Ontario Forage Council and a third-place finish in the Ontario GENOVIS rankings for crossbred maternal sheep in 2021.
The Paynes had been running a much smaller flock of about 100 ewes until 2020 when they abruptly scaled up and got a leg up in the world of sheep genetics. They did it by purchasing the respected — and large — Shepherd’s Choice flock and farm from their retiring neighbours in 2020.
“I would say the previous owners did a tremendous job,” said Payne, who has continued to develop the storied flock using artificial insemination and embryo transfer.
Now known by the Asphodel name, the flock is the last in the province that traces its lineage back to the former Ontario Lamb Ontario Breeding Strategy that helped improve the industry in the 1990s. The operation still uses the converted cow dairy barn that the founders renovated for sheep production purposes.
Lambs are born year round at the farm. Females are mostly destined for the all-important breeding-stock side of the business, which is responsible for most sheep-related farm revenues at the operation. “Usually, we’re sold out a year ahead,” he says.
Males are shipped for slaughter and comprise the majority of the 130,000 pounds of lamb meat the farm also produces each year.
Demand for lamb meat remains strong, observes Payne, who says the industry has grown by leaps and bounds. “It’s most definitely not a cottage industry.” While only an occasional treat for many Canadians, small ruminant animals like lamb are a mainstay among the country’s growing ethnic and immigrant populations, and this continues to drive demand for lamb and breeding stock. “We are so fortunate to have Toronto and the GTA nearby,” he says.
The 2020 decision to buy the established flock and breeding business turned out to be the right one, says Payne, who had been farming full time for three years at that point. He quit his off-farm job in 2017, while his wife continues to work as a teacher at a local Catholic school. When approaching any opportunity in agriculture, “the numbers can be mind numbing,” he says.
The Paynes look forward to receiving their award during ceremonies scheduled Oct. 18 at their local Chamber’s annual business excellence awards.